Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Review

By Jonathan Spira on 16 February 2011
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I’ve been searching for a lightweight, compact flash that has the power of a much larger unit and the SB-400 Speedlight from Nikon addresses these requirements perfectly.  The tiny SB-400, with dimensions of 66 x 56.5 x 80 mm and weighing only 128 g) takes up almost zero space in my travel bag and comes with a form-fitting case that does not add any bulk.
Despite its low price, the SB-400 is built with the quality one would expect from Nikon, and, despite its small size, its appearance is substantial..

Why use an external flash?

Built-in flashes have limitations, including that, due to being so close to the lens, they can cast a shadow on the bottom of the image in wide-angle shots. In addition, built-in flashes typically don’t support bounce, so the lighting can be harsh.

What the SB-400 can do

The SB-400 has a guide number of 21 (m at ISO 100 at 18 mm) and a shooting distance of 60 cm to 20 m (2 to 66 feet).  Wide angle flash coverage supports lenses as wide as 18 mm on Nikon DX-format DSLRs and 27 mm on a Nikon F6. The bounce is fully adjustable up to 90° (there are click stops at 0°, 60°, 75°, and 90°).

It uses Nikon’s i-TTL intelligent flash technology with Nikon Creative Light System (CLS)-compatible cameras to control exposure, which I found worked quite well.  Indeed, it was very difficult to end up with a poorly-exposed image when using the SB-400.

It also supports red-eye reduction (including in slow-sync), rear-curtain sync, and slow-sync.

Using the SB-400

I’ve been using the SB-400 with my Nikon D90 DSLR for several months now.  It uses two AA batteries and I found that it runs seemingly forever on them.  It has a locking metal hotshoe which I found very convenient to securely attach the flash to the camera.

In terms of compatibility, SB-400 works with most newer Nikon DSLRs, including the D3X, D3000, D700, and the D90. With few exceptions, it is not designed to work with film cameras or older digital cameras.

I have only found one small limitation, namely, that there is no sideways tilt (building this in would probably have increased the size of the unit). This means it is hard to bounce on vertical shots because the flash only goes horizontally.

Bottom line

Despite its diminutive size, the SB-400 is a powerful flash unit that should be a component in any business traveler’s gadget bag.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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